Got your driver's permit? Top 5 things to know about your car.

You have your driver’s permit? Congratulations. You've learned the rules of the road and earned the right to drive. But there's a lot more to driving. If you want to drive safely and save money, you have to know how to keep your car properly maintained. One of our recent surveys at found that two-thirds of parents of teen drivers rated their teen's basic knowledge of car maintenance as "somewhat or completely clueless," or "average." Teens can use online resources on our site or other websites to learn more. Here are five car maintenance and repair tips to get you started:

1.Gas: Don’t buy more than you need

Fuel prices are displayed at a Chevron gas station in Phoenix, Ariz., in this file photo. Here are two tips to save money on driving: Don't buy premium gasoline, unless your car requires it, and don't 'top off' your tank. (Joshua Lott/Reuters/File)

Using a higher grade of gasoline than your car manufacturer recommends is like throwing money away. Premium gasoline costs 20 to 40 cents more per gallon than regular, and most experts agree that there is very little difference in quality between grades of gasoline. Another money-saving tip: When the gas tank is full and the pump handle shuts off automatically, do not add more gas. Gasoline needs room to expand, so if you top off your tank, the extra gasoline can evaporate into your car’s vapor collection system, causing your engine to run poorly. Sometimes, that extra gas is fed back into the gas station’s holding tank through its vapor recovery line. What’s more, overfilling your gas tank can cause harmful vapors to be released into the environment. 

Tires: Invest in a penny's worth of safety

Checking the tread on your car's tires is crucial. A simple penny test is an easy way to see if you need new tires. (Enerpulse, Inc./PRNewsFoto/File)

It is highly important that your car’s tires have plenty of tread (2/32 of an inch is the minimum, 4/32 of an inch is recommended) so you don’t lose traction. Here's how to check: Take a penny and insert it – Lincoln's head first – into the grooves of your tires. If any part of Lincoln’s head is covered, you have a legal amount of tire tread left and your tires probably don’t need to be replaced. However, if there is any space above Lincoln’s head, or if you can see any part of the words “In God We Trust,” it’s time to get new tires. For more tips on taking good care of your tires, and making them last longer, click here.

Oil: Change is good

Mechanic Tommy Larkin drains oil from a customer's car in his garage in Dublin, Ireland, in this file photo from January. Drivers with cars built after 2002 typically can drive 5,000 miles between oil changes but owners of older models should change it every 3,000 miles. (Shawn Pogatchnik/AP/File)

Experts used to recommend an oil change every 3,000 miles, but most of today’s newer cars
 don’t require their oil to be changed that often. Here’s a good rule of thumb – if your car is older than a 2002 model year, you should probably change your oil every 3,000 miles. If it’s newer than a 2002 model, it’s fine to change your oil every 5,000 miles.

So, why is it important to change your oil? Motor oil lubricates, cools, and seals internal engine components. When the engine is running, oil is constantly circulating through critical parts of your car’s motor. That’s why regularly checking and changing motor oil is an important part of overall vehicle maintenance. Neglecting to change the oil periodically will shorten the life of your engine. Many car owners change their own oil. It’s a job that is not as difficult as you might think. It’s a great do-it-yourself auto-repair project and a way to learn a little more about your car. Get a parent or other adult to help you out, consult your vehicle owner’s manual to find out what kind of oil to use.

Fuses: Replace 'em yourself and save

Amarveer Brar, foreground, prepares to head home from high school with friend Roger Gorog in this 2002 file photo. Learning how to replace your own fuse is one way new drivers can save money. (Robert Harbison/The Christian Science Monitor/File)

If something electrical in your car stops working, (like your power windows, headlights, or windshield wipers), it might be a blown fuse. Identify which electrical part isn’t working. Using the owner’s manual, locate the fuse box. Then, locate the fuse for the part that isn’t working. Remove the blown fuse with a plastic fuse removal tool, usually located in the fuse box. Install a new fuse with the same amperage rating. Test the electrical part for proper operation to verify the repair. Replacing a fuse is one of the easiest repair jobs you can, and should, do yourself. If you are unsure of what to do, ask an adult to help, go online to access how-to guides on this repair, and always consult your vehicle owner’s manual to learn more.

Check Engine light: Pay attention

Pay careful attention to the check engine light on your dashboard. It can signal a fuel vapor leak or other system failures. (Mary Knox Merrill/The Christian Science Monitor/File )

If the Check Engine light comes on while you’re driving but the car seems to be running smoothly, chances are you can drive home and then have the car examined by a mechanic. The Check Engine light can signal any number of component failures, from a loose gas cap that causes a fuel-vapor leak to a faulty oxygen sensor that affects gas mileage. A blinking check engine light usually indicates a severe engine misfire that could damage your car’s expensive catalytic converter if ignored. So get it fixed as soon as possible.

Read your owner’s manual and familiarize yourself with all the dashboard warning lights. The more you know about your car, the less likely you’ll be asking the mechanic “How much?”

– Ray Cox is a senior ASE certified technician with, an online automotive-repair service owned by US Auto Parts Network